Big Alcohol and the Importance of Corporate Literacy in the 21st Century
They look at the influence of big industry on the larger culture that includes examining advertising that creates what they call an “alcohol norm” and targets children, to uncovering front lobbying groups that appear as “advocacy groups” on behalf of the consumer, yet are driven by industry incentives and funding.
Find the two-part interview here:
9 myths on alcohol
In the interview Maik Dünnbier, the Director of Strategy and Advocacy at IOGT International, exposes 9 myths which are propagated by the alcohol industry and debunks a few of them.
Consuming alcohol is normal, common, responsible and healthy
The damage done by alcohol is limited to a small group of “alcoholics”
Normal, adult alcohol non-users do not exist
Everybody can ignore there is harm in alcohol and its addictive nature and should focus on the things alcohol industry says alcohol gives people
The problems that alcohol is causing can only be solved together in partnership with the alcohol industry
Alcohol industry claims, alcohol marketing is not harmful
Education and awareness on responsible use of alcohol is the best method to protect society than policy measures such as taxation and availability regulation
Media would tell people if alcohol products are as dangerous as the public health experts says, and since the media is not saying that, people should believe the products are not hamrful
Moderation and responsible consumption is the way to reduce alcohol harm and enjoy life
Why is alcohol not healthy?
Alcohol is not at all healthy. The alcohol industry tries to maintain an image that alcohol is healthy. The industry is attacking independent science which shows health harmful consequences of alcohol consumption. For example, since 1988 the scientific community knows alcohol causes cancer. There is little awareness about this fact in society. Alcohol in fact, causes 7 types of cancer and there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption.
People generally know that alcohol is bad for the liver and about road traffic injuries, but even this type of awareness is offset by myths such as alcohol is good for the heart. There is a myth that red wine is good for cardiovascular health. There have been landmark studies debunking these myths over the last 3 years.
Not even a little bit of alcohol is healthy, there is a health risk in any amount of consumption
In terms of cancer, with every drop of alcohol consumed the cancer risk increases. There is no safe limit or amount for alcohol consumption. Risk for stroke also increases with alcohol use. It is up to informed adults to decide whether this risk should be taken, but it is unfair to propagate mythical beliefs that alcohol has a health benefit.
The risk of cancer associated with alcohol use is very high. 33,000 cancer deaths occur in the United States due to alcohol use.
It is a case of informed consent, busting the myths that alcohol is healthy or a little bit is okay, it is best for the consumer to know the real facts.
Why is the media not disclosing about dangers of alcohol?
Firstly, Media outlets are dependent on advertising money, which shapes the information publicized by media.
Secondly, cognitive dissonance affects reporting. Opinion leaders and people in the upper echelons of society have higher prevalence of alcohol use compared to poorer parts of the population. The myths, beliefs held by these people and their own alcohol use affects on the reporting of alcohol issues.
Thirdly, as observed by IOGT International, every time there is an independent study published about alcohol issues, the next day there are headlines refuting it with benefits of alcohol. These type of news fueled by the alcohol industry causes a lot of confusion.
The idea of “responsible consumption” and “moderation” is discarded
This myth is central to what the alcohol industry wants to achieve. The industry is hiding where they are getting most of their profits from. They want to fuel a culture where people think “responsible” consumption will not cause a problem. This is taken out of the playbook of the tobacco industry.
Due to this, society blames alcohol problems on the individual and lacks the ability to understand and empathize with people who face alcohol problems, like alcohol use disorders. The industry distorts the image of what alcohol problems look like. For example people think about the homeless person on a park bench in conjunction with alcohol problems but not about the mother who needs two bottles of wine to unwind at the end of the day.
It is important to dissect this myth because it causes problems when people can not understand they have a problem, or get help for it.
It is not about taking the responsibility away from the individual, but addressing the accountability that the alcohol industry is not taking, by selling an addictive substance and not disclosing it is addictive
It is important to discuss about choice, as there is a pervasive alcohol norm in society. Survey data from Sweden shows, not everyone who uses alcohol likes it, or wants to consume it. But in a social situation such as an event or office party people are compelled to use alcohol. Therefore, it is important to be critical of how using alcohol is a free choice, when people live in a society which forces them to consume alcohol.
The problem starts with not being able to identify the alcohol problem within yourself. As it is always painted as the alcohol problem is outside, such as in the homeless person. The industry has distorted the image of alcohol problem which disrupts informed conversation on the topic.
The reality is alcohol is a toxic, carcinogenic, addictive substance. It has been mythologized, labelled and branded. Then people do not think about the chemical properties.
The alcohol industry connects alcohol to success and having “the good life”. These myths in our culture are prioritized over the effects of human consumption of ethanol. This myth is constantly established by industry marketing. The so called benefits are focused on and the downside of alcohol use is absent from public awareness and discourse.
The marketing of the substance allows normalization which leads to development of a dependency on the substance
A recent study from UK found that many medical doctors are self medicating on alcohol.
People use alcohol to wind down or as a performance enhancer. They are not aware of the consequences of alcohol self-medication as society does not discuss the negative effects of alcohol use.
Experts in addiction say, if alcohol could be invented today, with the levels of harm it causes including addiction, it would not be allowed for human consumption or industrialized as today through multinational corporations.
Busting the myth of focusing on education and awareness of moderation over strong policy measures
IOGT International advocates for the alcohol policy best buy solutions.
- Raising prices of alcohol through taxation
- Regulate the availability of alcohol
- Banning alcohol advertising, promotions and sponsorships and regulate alcohol marketing
The alcohol industry is threatened by these measures as they reduce their profits. Therefore, they respond with putting the focus on the individual and claiming to educated people on “responsible alcohol use”.
In Canada, there was plans for a study on placing the warning “alcohol causes cancer” on alcohol bottles and its effects. The alcohol industry threatened to sue the scientist leading to shutting down the study. Several of the biggest alcohol producers wanted to pay the National Institute for Health (NIH) for a study to prove that moderate alcohol consumption is healthy. The working title of the study was to be “Cheers”. It was only shut down after public outcry and reporting by media because of its obvious ethical problems.
The alcohol industry is trying to intervene in the independence of research. They have no interest in informing consumers about the real effects of alcohol.
Talking about industry interference
IOGT International has 134 member organizations in 56 countries. We know that the alcohol industry has multiple lobby front groups in all countries. At the global level they have a lobby front group called the “International Alliance for Responsible Drinking”. Even this name perpetuates the myths discussed. This group is funded by 11 of the largest alcohol producers in the world.
Then there are industry associations such as, “The Spirits Council”, “The Beer Institute”. There is an avalanche of lobbying from different types of alcohol industries from Beer, Wine and Liquor, from trade associations and lobby front groups. Very often these industry funded bodies hide who they are or where they receive funding. It is very corrosive for public health policy making, for our democratic institutions putting private interests of a few business executives and shareholders before the public interest.